Looking to Try a Classroom Library Audit?

by | 08.6.19

Molly Castner is a teacher in Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter @mcastner1.

I teach middle school, and it’s such an important time for students to discover what books they like and to develop a solid reader’s identity. I’ve come to better understand that kids need choice – and their choices are largely influenced by what’s available in the classroom library. Thanks to the work of Project LIT and We Need Diverse Books, I’ve been giving more thought to what kinds of choices I’m offering my students.

When I saw Corrina Allen’s classroom library audit, I wanted to try it out for myself. She was generous enough to share her resources, and I planned a classroom library audit with my own kids. I started the discussion with students by talking about Rudine Sims Bishop’s ideas about books as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. We looked at demographic data for the country and for our school community. I asked students, “What do we need to do next?”

We determined our guiding question – “Whose voices do we have on our shelves?” – and the kids decided how to answer it. I told the students, “The great thing about this project is that I have no idea what we’re going to find. I’m learning right alongside you, because I honestly don’t know what’s here.”

Kids spent two days collecting data, plugging books and numbers into Google sheets. We looked at ethnicity and gender of authors and main characters, and we also looked for LGBTQ+ representation. It was cool because kids were getting their hands on books they wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. It was a nice kind of cross-curricular project, too, because in their data analysis, we integrated math in a way that felt genuine, not forced. I also had a lot of support from our tech integrator, who showed me how to facilitate this project using Google sheets. There was a lot of authentic teaching and learning going on – for my students but also for me.

The students discovered we needed more Asian, Latinx and indigenous voices on our shelves, and they looked through various lists online to find recommendations. Particularly helpful was We Need Diverse Books’ OurStory app.  After creating our wish list, students wrote to publishers and bookstores asking for donations or brought books from home that fit the need – and our library was transformed.

Now, my classroom is almost a secondary library in the school. Staff come in all the time to borrow books, and students are elated to see themselves reflected in more books on our shelves. And I’m so proud that they have richer choices as readers.

If you’d like to try a classroom library audit with your students, I’d love to share my resources, which draw on Corrina Allen’s. You can see the steps my students and I took in a Google Slides deck here, and the spreadsheet where we collected data here.

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